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How do I help my dog who's afraid of the dark and insects?

My son's medical assistant canine is a beautiful Siberian Husky named Cher. Rescued from a shelter after being in a coyote snare, she is trained to bite my son's lifeline necklace. She loves everyone, especially children and other animals, but she is afraid of the dark and insects. How can I best help her?

It is not uncommon for dogs to develop unusual fears. Often, you can alleviate them with a keen understanding of the problem, good training and a lot of patience. Other times, the problem may be serious enough to warrant a thorough physical exam by your veterinarian. Intense fears may even need to be treated by a specialist in canine behavior.

First, attempt to figure out why your dog has the fear that he does. There are usually two main reasons why a dog has fears.

Genetics (or nature) could be the culprit, particularly if poor breeding practices were involved. The dog could have difficulty processing new information in a normal way. Therefore, anything unknown is cause for fear.

Socialization (or nurture) or the dog’s previous experiences also could be the reason for his fear. A well-socialized dog has learned that although there are myriad things in this world that they haven't seen before, there usually is no cause for alarm or fear. On the flip side, a dog lacking socialization has not learned to process new information.

Regardless of the reason he is afraid, a little homework can help you discover how to assist him in overcoming his fears.

  1. Don't scold your dog for his fear. Understand that he is experiencing something that causes him stress and fear, so if you scold or yell at him, this will only worsen the problem.
  2. Don't coddle your dog. Although the opposite of scolding, coddling is equally wrong. You may inadvertently reinforce his fear instead of helping it go away.
  3. Assuming you’ve managed to figure out why he is afraid of the dark and of insects, you may be able to help him slowly become more and more accustomed to this stimuli until he realizes that there is no more need to be afraid.

The same goes for any fear. You slowly accustom the dog to whatever scares him. As he shows acceptance at each stage, reward him with praise or even a treat. Don't coddle the fear, but reward the progress.

Dealing with your dog's fears and insecurities requires patience and a strong understanding of your dog's mental workings. Invest the time, though, and your dog will thank you.

If this guidance doesn’t diminish his fears, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian right away.

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Written by:
Kristen Levine, Pet Lifestyle Expert

September 01, 2011

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